Over the past couple weeks, I’ve neglected this blog as I worked on a deadline project and struggled with clunky software (thanks, Adobe!). Saturday night, though, I finished up and treated myself to a movie – in this case, the 2014 Oscar nominee Wild Tales (trailer below), from Argentine director Damián Szifrón (whose work I had never seen before).
Wild Tales is not a conventional narrative, but rather a series of vignettes that deal with themes of resentment, and even revenge, in a dysfunctional society. My Argentine wife, who saw the film in Buenos Aires, sees it differently, suggesting a more universal theme of reactions by people pushed to the edge in extreme circumstances.
There’s an argument for either, but there must be a reason – other than just Ricardo Darín – that it’s been a big box-office hit in Argentina. It does have an all-star cast, though not many of them will be familiar to English-speaking audiences – Darín appeared in the 2010 Oscar-winner The Secret in Their Eyes, and composer Gustavo Santaolalla has won two Oscars for best original score (2005 for Brokeback Mountain and 2006 for Babel).
To my non-Argentine eyes, though, Wild Tales expresses the frustrations that many Argentines experience every day, ranging from unresponsive customer service to class conflict to road rage to rampant corruption – not that these are mutually exclusive. To Szifrón’s credit, he often does so with humor, though it’s usually a gallows humor that may not amuse everybody.
That said, the individual episodes are uneven. My favorites were La Propuesta (The Proposal), in which a wealthy and influential family protect their son from a vehicular manslaughter charge to the detriment of their loyal handyman, and Bombita, in which Darín’s character fights a parking violation. The former, though, was stressful to watch for its portrayal of corruption in the legal system and its impact on the unfortunate handyman (though he himself was not incorruptible).
Whenever I watch such a movie, I always try to identify the locations from my own travels. Most were in Buenos Aires, though I couldn’t them with any precision except for the international airport at Ezeiza (pictured above) The road rage episode El Más Fuerte, though, was shot in the scenic canyon country (pictured below) near the northern Andean wine district of Cafayate (mentioned in the dialogue and acknowledged in the credits). The scenery, though, takes a distant second place to the class-based hostility between the two drivers (though it has its humorous moments).
Without giving away too much, I would recommend the movie to anyone curious about Argentina and its society, but I’d also hope it wouldn’t discourage anyone from visiting the country. Bronca (aggravation) is part of being an Argentine, but it’s not everything.